Friday, January 22, 2010

Limpopo Ringing Expedition South Africa
March 19th to 31st 2009

Billy Rutherford
Barry Williams
Richard Charles
Tim Ball
Claire McGuire
Mark Blythman
Jim Williams
Michael Parker

Loading up the trip vehicle was a challenge to say the least, but eventually we managed to fit everything in then squeeze in ourselves including the pigeon, 20 mice, zebra finch and mealworms!
First off we started dropping for raptors in the Nylsvlei area, big open farms with large patches of bushveld which made for good birding too.
So far we had seen 3 Brown Snake Eagles (BSE) and 1 Black-chested Snake Eagle (BCSE) a few Amur Falcons and Lesser Kestrel, but the bulk of migrant raptors it would seem had left. Steppe Buzzards were conspicuous by their absence.
We had a few Black-shouldered Kites onto traps but unusually very half-hearted attempts. These birds were very common and a count of 50 were made in this area. Eventually we caught an adult Greater Kestrel which was duly ringed by Billy and then had to get going to the Woodbush Forest.

We arrived late and managed to get a load of nets up before dark and furled. As we were preparing a braai (South African BBQ) a Wood Owl flew down onto the track by the cottage and picked up a beetle! In moments we had an owl net with a bal-chatri under it and watched for the next 2 hours as the owl swooped down over the net and back up into the trees. Eventually hunger or curiosity got he better of it and landed on the trap then quickly took off but into the bottom shelf of the net!
What a gorgeous bird, an adult with an interesting mix of new and old flight feathers.

We were hampered here in the mornings with a heavy drizzle, but between net rounds managed to pick up a number of birds of a variety of species including Kurrichane Thrush, Chorister Robin-chat, Dusky Flycatcher, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and Cape White-eye.

Setting off late morning to look for raptors we were soon presented with a Long-crested Eagle which took no time in coming to the trap and getting caught. It was a young bird, no primary moult and an off-yellow eye, Tim had the honor of ringing it and we had our first eagle in the bag.
A bit later we got a juvenile Jackal Buzzard not far from the town of Hearnetzburg.
During the morning we saw 3 Forest Buzzards but could not get near enough to drop a trap for them. Eventually we spotted one across the small valley by the guesthouse and put a trap up on the bank of the track and waited. It was a good 200m away and after 5 minutes it saw the mouse and came in, but very wary and took 20 minuets to alight next to the trap then another 10 to get on it where it caught itself. Unfortunately Jim, nominated to secure the bird, spent far too long getting to the trap by which time the buzzard had slipped free. A great shame after so much time and effort had gone into catching this bird, but that is the nature of the game.
In all we saw 5 Long-crested Eagles an adult Jackal Buzzard, 3 Steppe Buzzards and 4 Fish Eagles.

Mist netting in the garden that afternoon and the next morning produced a few more sunbirds and new birds included, several Forest Canary, Black-throated Apalis, Cape Robinchat and Cape Batis.

On the way out of Woodbush Forest we took the famous ‘Forest Drive’ which traverses many kilometres of beautiful forest. The highlight along this track was finding an adult Forest Buzzard which flushed as soon as we came across it, but fortunately landed in a dead tree further along the track. Got a trap down and in seconds the bird was on the trap, a very different attitude to the bird of yesterday.
We had the bird in no time where Barry Williams duly ringed it, having spent 3 trips previously attempting to catch this species he was suitably chuffed.
There is not much known about the seasonal movements of this species, breeding only south of the 30th parallel and moving up the escarpment to the northern Transvaal. This bird, an adult would have possibly finished breeding and possibly moving into a rainfall area to ‘over winter’.

On the way to Tzaneen, the small town en route to our destination we encountered 6 Brown Snake Eagles and dropped for 3 to no avail. Also had a Steppe Buzzard come in to the trap but ‘smelt a rat’ at the last second and kept on going!
Just outside the town of Phalaborwa an adult Black-chested Snake-eagle dropped out of the sky in a screaming dive to some unseen prey item, but aborted and landed in a tree nearby. We got a trap down but the bird was too interested in what it had missed.

Arriving at our lodge we got a good number of nets up in nice thorn scrub and before dark got a few Red-backed Shrikes, Fork-tailed Drongo and after supper the ipod produced a beautiful immature Southern White-faced owl.

The next morning after the catch rate subsided Claire whilst taking a shower was bitten by a tiny scorpion on the instep of her foot effectively putting her out of action and in great pain for the rest of the day.
Meanwhile some of us went out on a raptor run and just outside town came across a Brown Snake-eagle on a pylon, managed to manoeuvre the vehicle into position along a goat track and got the trap down. This time the eagle came in immediately and on the trap. we then spent a ‘heart-in-mouth’ 10 minutes before the bird was caught and we had a beauty of a beast, an adult at 2.9 kg and in fine shape. Billy was the lucky one who ringed it and thus confidently charged set off into the bush.
We caught 2 Dark-chanting Goshawks in the normal way and 2 Lilac-breasted Rollers, coming to mealworm bated spring-traps, but no more snake-eagles.

Back at the lodge we continued to run the nets catching till dusk when we put the ipod on a mix of nightjar calls and were rewarded with a Firey-necked Nightjar and whilst dazzling produced a Mozambique Nightjar and a Water Dikkop. We were not so lucky to have caught a Bronze-winged Courser and a Double-banded Sandgrouse which flushed too soon.

After a 2 hour session first thing we set off to the Soutpansberg Mountains following lots of little back roads, but again just outside Phalaborwa the pylons produced again, this time a second year Black-chested Snake Eagle. I was convinced it was a bird we had tried to catch the day before which was impossible to drop for, but this time we got a trap on a service track and the bird came in immediately. It was duly ringed (by Billy again!) and we continued.
We dropped for another Black-chested Snake Eagle an adult later on which came in, hovered over the trap and then landed in a tree nearby which sometimes happens. Then flew up to another tree apparently loosing interest.

Next up was a Lizard Buzzard which came in typically rocket-like and was caught right away. Richard ringed this one, a sub adult.

We arrived at the foot of the Soutpansberg and began the 8 km ascent up a tiny one lane track in the large mini bus we were in! Ignoring the crunching and grinding of the undercarriage we made it to the top, quite an achievement and the first 2x4 ever to do so!
We set a long line of nets in this wonderful wooded bushland right on the edge of a spectacular view overlooking the south. A pair of Verreaux’s Eagles had a nest just below us and would from time to time soar over us providing wonderful views of this magnificent eagle.
The setting here was paradise, with the ringing table set by the edge of the escarpment where we could keep an eye on passing raptors. Observations included three Cape Vultures a pair of African Hawk-eagles, an adult Black-chested Snake Eagle, an adult Jackal Buzzard, a Pair of local Peregrine Falcons, a Lanner, a fantastic displaying male Crowned Eagle a Honey Buzzard, 5 male Amur falcons heading north with a Steppe Buzzard.

A really exciting moment was seeing a small falcon way off hunting over the bushveld which could of possibly been a Taita Falcon, a very rare and localised bird found only in South Africa some 200km away as the falcon flies. However we were not able to get enough on it to clinch the identity, just that it was different!
The camera traps in the Soutpansberg to date have now caught 11 individual Leopards. Very encouraging to know this beautiful predator is doing well here.

We had the pigeon out in the basket trap all day and at one point a Peregrine looked very interested, cutting off a convincing stoop just before the trees.
During the night we played various calls for Cape and Spotted Eagle-owls and even got a response from the former but no luck.

Limpopo Valley
After the mornings catch we set off back down the track reshaping the bodywork as we went and headed north over the mountains to a vast area of dry bushveld. On route we caught a juvenile Pale-chanting Goshawk and a Purple Roller and had a Brown Snake Eagle on the trap which got off at the last second.
At our camp we caught another Pale-chanting Goshawk, this time a large adult female which had just devoured a dove.
We got into this great camp and set 2 wader nets by the waterhole before dusk and waited. After a while we heard the tale-tale whistling of Double-banded Sandgrouse coming into drink and got 6 birds, not as many as I had hoped as numbers were very much down compared to the catches last time.
Michael Parker arrived in time to ring one of the Sandgrouse. After supper we set the nightjar net and caught a Rufous-cheeked and European Nightjar.

In the morning we flushed a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl whilst opening the nets, one to watch! Caught lots of Cinnamon and Golden-breasted Buntings as well as Namaqua Dove, Familiar Chat, Arrow-marked Babbler and Fork-tailed Drongo.
After lunch we set off on a quick raptor run and for provisions down to the town of Alldays and got a Lesser Kestrel, a cracking adult male a lat one as this species has almost entirely moved north by now. Also caught were Rock Kestrel another adult male and an adult Shikra.
That evening we caught a few more Sandgrouse including a 29 month old re-trap.

Leaving after a couple of hours netting first thing we headed north to the Limpopo valley, the habitat changing now to a mixture of mature bushveld and thorny scrub dotted with giant Baobabs. On top of one of these we spotted an African Hawk Eagle and got two traps down. After 5 mins the bird saw the mouse and reacted by cautiously flying in to have a look, eventually landing beside the first trap. After a while it reassured itself this was ok and made a lunge for the mouse with the very long, extremely powerful legs and talons of this species.
Just then another bird flew in, a juvenile, landing next to the second trap just as the adult got caught, with the ensuing struggle the juvenile flew up into a tree, but we had to grab the first bird before any harm was done.
We aged it as a third year female at 1.520kg, it had two moult centres in the primary tract, with a retained outer juvenile feather.

By now the juvenile had taken to the wing and was circling overhead looking for its mum! So we quickly release the female and continued. We came across a Peregrine whch we set down the pigeon for, but unfortunately it hardly moved and the falcon never spotted it.
We passed through Mpangubwe Natioal Park and came across a large heard of Elephants at the same time as spotting a Brown Snake-eagle on a dead tree. Keeping a wary eye on the elephants we dropped for it and were soon rewarded with an incoming bird which soon got caught, but at the last moment, got off.

As we moved west we spotted lots of raptors up in the air, a pair of Tawny Eagles, a Steppe Eagle, 8 Wahlberg’s Eagles and 4 Brown Snake-eagles. We tried for 2 Black-chested on a pylon but they flew for some unknown reason.

Limpopo River
Arriving at our next camp in beautiful riparian forest on the banks of the Limpopo river, we set 12 nets and managed to catch a few birds before nightfall including Grey-headed Brown-hooded and Woodland Kingfishers.
The owl net produced a stunning little African Scops Owl at around midnight.

Next morning we opened at 0530hrs and began to catch quality not quantity with the best bird undoubtedly being a Greater-spotted Cuckoo, the 12th ringed in South Africa. Other birds of note were a Levaillant’s Cuckoo, several Meve’s Starling a Burchell’s Coucal and a Shikra.
The day was spent very pleasantly round the camp playing with spring-traps, and trying out ideas to catch targeted species and even time in the pool!
That night we made a night drive and managed to dazzle 2 Spotted Thick-knees and got a cracking Southern White-faced Owl on a bal-chatri. We searched in vain for a Verreaux’s Eagle-owl despite it calling from within the canopy of the huge Nyala trees along the river.

After the morning session some of us went on a raptor run which caught 3 Pale-chanting Goshawks and a Shikra. We almost had a Lanner which came in over the trap but decided against it and flew off. We found two Tawny Eagles but one was too low and far back from the track and the other flew on our approach.
Netting at the camp produced a whole flock of white Helmet-shrikes, delightful birds with such a strange adaptation of head feathers and eye-wattle. Other birds included a netted Jackal Buzzard! which must of gone in after a bird in the net, a Natal Spurfowl, 2 Red-billed Hornbill, a Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, a Lesser-grey Shrike in one of the spring-traps, 2 Greater Honeyguide, a Pygmy Kingfisher, Willow and Marsh Warblers.

Dazzling that night was fun despite not catching anything as the moon was up making it difficult to approach birds. There were lots of Crowned, Blacksmith and Senegal Plovers as well as quite a number of Bronze-winged Coursers and Water Thick-knee.

After a short session we continued to add to the species list with a Terrestrial Bulbul, Yellow-bellied Greenbul a pair of Tropical Boubous.
We set off for ‘the Farm’ on the banks of the Oliphants River and on the way got Billy his target of 50 ‘ringing ticks’ in the form of a Dark-chanting Goshawk, one of two caught. Nearing the farm we began to see Black-shouldered Kites, the species greatly favouring farmland with so much spilt grain attracting mice along the roadsides. We caught two birds, an adult and juvenile but were pushed for time and got to the farm to set nets for the morning, not before catching a Mocking Cliff-chat and a Rufous-naped Lark around the farmhouse!
The morning provided Kurrichane and Karoo Thrushes, Fiscal Flycatcher, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Lesser-striped Swallows, Jamison’s Firefinches, Blue Waxbills and Rattling Cisticolas.

Then it was time to go, the airport an hour away allowed for some diversions to do some birdwatching, continuing to add to the impressive list of over 400 species seen on the trip.
From a ringing point, we managed to ring 322 birds of 109 species, not a huge amount of birds, but great diversity.
The main factor against us was an early winter front coming in from the south-west which in my opinion prompted an early northward migration for a lot of birds of prey. In the past this very period in march has produced far greater catch of raptors in particular Black-chested Snake-eagles which are usually present in far bigger numbers then Brown Snake-eagles which were the more common on this trip. However 18 species of raptor is not bad by any standards on a trip and what is nice is for everyone to have a good look at individual species instead of ‘doing big numbers’ and missing the details.

See below the trip list of birds ringed.

Natal Spurfowl 1
Greater Honeyguide 3
Lesser Honeyguide 1
Crested Barbet 4
Red-billed Hornbill 4
S Yellow-billed Hornbill 4
Green Wood-Hoopoe 2
Lilac-breasted Roller 2
Purple Roller 1
African Pygmy-Kingfisher 1
Grey-headed Kingfisher 1
Woodland Kingfisher 3
Brown-hooded Kingfisher 3
Levaillant's Cuckoo 1
Great Spotted Cuckoo 1
Burchell's Coucal 1
African Scops-Owl 1
S White-faced Scops-Owl 2
African Wood-Owl 1
Fiery-necked Nightjar 2
Square-tailed Nightjar 1
Rufous-cheeked Nightjar 2
European Nightjar 1
Laughing Dove 6
Cape Turtle-Dove 2
Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove 3
Namaqua Dove 5
Double-banded Sandgrouse 11
Spotted Thick-knee 3
Black-shouldered Kite 2
Black-chested Snake-Eagle 1
Brown Snake-Eagle 2
Lizard Buzzard 1
Dark Chanting Goshawk 4
S Pale Chanting Goshawk 9
Shikra 3
Forest Buzzard 1
Jackal Buzzard 2
African Hawk-Eagle 1
Long-crested Eagle 1
Lesser Kestrel 1
Rock Kestrel 1
Greater Kestrel 1
Black-headed Oriole 1
Fork-tailed Drongo 4
Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher 1
African Paradise-Flycatcher 3
Black-backed Puffback 5
Tropical Boubou 2
Southern Boubou 2
Olive Bush-Shrike 1
White-crested Helmet-Shrike 7
Cape Batis 6
Red-backed Shrike 5
Lesser Grey Shrike 1
Southern White-crowned Shrike 1
Black Cuckooshrike 2
Lesser Striped Swallow 1
Dark-capped Bulbul 6
Yellow-bellied Greenbul 1
Terrestrial Brownbul 6
Marsh Warbler 2
Lesser Swamp-Warbler 1
Long-billed Crombec 1
Willow Warbler 2
Arrow-marked Babbler 2
Common Whitethroat 1
Cape White-eye 16
Lazy Cisticola 5
Rattling Cisticola 4
Neddicky 1
Tawny-flanked Prinia 2
Bar-throated Apalis 5
Grey-backed Camaroptera 6
Rufous-naped Lark 1
Kurrichane Thrush 10
Karoo Thrush 1
Fiscal Flycatcher 1
African Dusky Flycatcher 1
Ashy Flycatcher 5
Grey Tit-Flycatcher 1
Cape Robin-Chat 2
White-throated Robin-Chat 7
Chorister Robin-Chat 1
Bearded Scrub-Robin 1
White-browed Scrub-Robin 1
Familiar Chat 1
Mocking Cliff-Chat 1
Meves's Starling 5
Violet-backed Starling 2
Collared Sunbird 2
S Double-collared Sunbird 5
Southern Masked-Weaver 5
Red-headed Weaver 2
Red-billed Quelea 1
Yellow Bishop 2
Violet-eared Waxbill 1
Blue Waxbill 7
Green-winged Pytilia 6
Red-billed Firefinch 7
African Firefinch 2
Jameson's Firefinch 2
Bronze Mannikin 1
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow 6
Forest Canary 4
Yellow-fronted Canary 1
Streaky-headed Seedeater 1
Cinnamon-breasted Bunting 18
Golden-breasted Bunting 2

109 Species 322 Birds

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